Milwaukee Bucks win 15th straight game with 118-104 victory over Brooklyn Nets

NEW YORK – The streak continues, as the Milwaukee Bucks won their 15th straight game 118-104 over the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center Tuesday night in New York. It is the fourth longest win streak in franchise history.

It is not only the longest streak in the league this season, but also the most consecutive victories in the NBA since Phoenix peeled off 18 straight last season. Several members of the current Bucks core was part of the franchise’s second-longest win streak, which was also 18 games in the 2019-20 season.

After the win over Phoenix on Sunday, Middleton said that the 2019-20 team got into the streak but now – while they are enjoying each win – they’re not as focused on the extended run of success. Giannis Antetokounmpo agreed.

First of all we’ve never been a part of that before – it’s hard not to be excited about it, not to oh, this month we didn’t lose a game,” Antetokounmpo said Tuesday night. “It’s hard. I think that was 2020. Yeah, it was 2020. We were a younger team, never been in that position before, so obviously we were very happy about it.

“Now at the end of the day, that year did we win a championship? We didn’t. I can still tell my kids and my grandkids that we won 18 in a row. It’s a great story. But at the end of the day it’s a better story when from these 15 games you’re able to build good habits. Me personally, it’s great. It’s great. I’m not gonna lie. Being able to be a team that win 15 in a row, it’s a great feeling, but it doesn’t matter.”

So if ripping off so many games in a row doesn’t mean much now, what can it mean in the bigger picture?

“It’s great to be on a winning streak like this, to be winning 15 games in a row with so many guys in and out of the lineup, different guys stepping up in different parts of the game and closing the game, it’s been huge,” Middleton said after the Nets win. “It just shows what a deep team we have.

“So I mean, when you look at the big picture you think about the guys we have on this team, any lineup we throw out there we have a chance to win. If some lineups don’t work we can try a different way, different lineup, different style of basketball and we can figure out a way to win and match up with most of the teams out here. So I think that gives us confidence going forward.”

Pat Connaughton agreed, noting how the team had to come from several double-digit deficits to beat the Nets. The halftime message in particular was about focusing in on the 24 minutes left, “It wasn’t hey, let’s keep the streak going – it was what is happening this game, how do we do our best at wining each game,” Connaughton said.

“One of the reasons we did such a great job on that 18-game win streak a few years back was that’s what we did and we had guys that were hungry to play the Bucks brand of basketball that weren’t just starters, weren’t just the rotational guys, it was the guys after that. Look at tonight, two minutes left they cut the lead to 13 and it got a little, in theory, dicey, and then got some great shots, hit some great open looks and all of a sudden it’s back up to 18 and it’s nothing to worry about. that’s the cool part about this team is we’ve got a lot of great basketball players but the mental side of taking it stride and being good at learning through adversity is what I think will pay off in the end.”

The victory moved the Bucks to 44-17 overall and the Nets dropped to 34-27. Five Bucks reached double figures in scoring and they dominated in the paint, outscoring Brooklyn 62-44 in that area.

Giannis Antetokounmpo returns to full speed

It seems strange, but the Bucks’ MVP candidate had not played a full game since Feb. 14, an overtime victory against Boston. He left his last two regular season games early with injuries, first with a sprained right wrist (Feb. 16 at Chicago) and a bruised right quadriceps (Feb. 24 vs. Miami). Antetokounmpo looked fresh in the early going, throwing down three massive dunks to get the road crowd cheering for him.

“With the coaches we were talking, it feels like we haven’t watched Giannis play basketball for a long time,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “So you put all the days together, it’s in the middle of the season, it was a strange. I thought the way he played the third quarter and in general the second half, and really the first half I think that’s a little bit of his adjustment period, getting back, getting the feel of it, the contact, the physicality, and then he just turned it up in the second half and played really well like the rest of the group.”

BOX SCORE: Bucks 118, Nets 104

But there was some rust, too. Three of the Bucks’ 12 first half turnovers were on passes to him from Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton that missed their mark. Antetokounmpo turned it over twice on his own, too, and the Nets scored 16 points off the takeaways.

Antetokounmpo scored 12 points in the third quarter to help the Bucks get back into it, and then he put the punctuation mark on his performance with four early points in the fourth to increase the Bucks’ margin and help them start to pull away.

He finished with 33 points on 15-of-27 shooting (but just 2 for 6 from the free throw line) along with 15 rebounds and four assists in 28 minutes.

“I think he looked great,” Middleton said. “The dunks he had showed that a couple days off of getting himself healthy was key. The guy came out, he got us going, he threw it down bad. he came out in that second quarter and put his stamp, his foot, his signature on the game and just went hard and got us going behind him and that’s what we need some nights. We know he’s going to lead us a lot of nights and tonight was one of those nights where we needed him to get us going.”

Because of the timing of the injuries, he had not directly spoken about his concern over his right wrist (he spoke briefly at the all-star game on Feb. 20 but went for additional testing on Feb. 21 where it was determined no significant damage was done). Rather unusually, he pulled himself out of the game against the Heat after the team said he knocked knees with an opponent. Though it was later described as a quad bruise, he had also hit his right knee against an opponent in the Celtics game.

“That’s the bad thing — when I went back home and I told my significant other oh, I’m hurting,” he said, starting to smile. “She’s like ah, you’ll be all right. Because it’s like you never get hurt. I feel like when I’m hurt people don’t take me serious. But, as I’ve said, for me to leave the game – which I don’t usually, typically never do – I’m in pain. But, at the end of the day, whatever I have to give, I give. That’s all I can do. Right now I know I have to put myself in a position to be healthy.”

Antetokounmpo had been dealing with soreness in that knee since Jan. 27 but had been playing through it.

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo throws down a unk against Nets center Nic Claxton (33) and forward Dorian Finney-Smith during the first quarter Tuesday night.

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo throws down a unk against Nets center Nic Claxton (33) and forward Dorian Finney-Smith during the first quarter Tuesday night.

New-look Nets push the Bucks

There was a different feel for the game than previous iterations of the Bucks-Nets rivalry, largely because Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were no longer headlining for the home team. With the two stars dealt away, the Nets instead relied on a group effort of starting players ranging from 6 feet, 5 inches to 6-11.

Brooklyn head coach Jacque Vaughn elected to lean on his five starters, as all played at least 29 minutes.

And, for the majority of the game, it worked.

Despite the height mismatch inside against Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis, the Nets were active defensively in forcing turnovers and weren’t afraid to get in and draw foul. Mikal Bridges scored 18 first half points and was followed by Cam Johnson (15) and Spencer Dinwiddie (13) in helping the Nets lead by as many as 15 in the first half.

“I personally think the guys have done a great job of staying within ourselves,” Connaughton said. “We take each game for what it is. We look at the whole 48 minutes, we try to learn from the mistakes. We didn’t play great in the first half, we had too many turnovers, we didn’t communicate as well as we should have on the defensive end and in transition they got some open threes, things of that nature. Giannis was great — at halftime he was talking about look, when things are going well it’s easy. We laugh, we dance, we paly together and everyone’s having fun but in the playoffs things aren’t going to go easy all the time. So, take advantage of this opportunity of being down at halftime when things aren’t going our way.”

The Bucks gradually reeled them in and tied the game early in the third quarter, but then Bridges ripped off 10 straight points to once again give his team some breathing room.

But, after Antetokounmpo left with his fourth foul with 5:04 to go in the third, the Bucks outscored the Nets 18-7 to take a 91-85 lead into the fourth. It was a stretch sparked by Middleton (6 points), Holiday (4 points, assist) and Joe Ingles 3 points, 2 assists).

“I was just, I wouldn’t say taking control, I think tonight was a night where I just had to play off the ball,” Middleton said. “Those guys out there are great defenders, long wings, same size, they switch a lot of actions, so it’s more of just playing off the ball, waiting for guys to find me or find open spots where I could do a little bit of damage.”

From there, Antetokounmpo returned and the Bucks tightened the screws on defense and pushed on the gas offensively. And unfortunately, Vaughn’s gamble didn’t pay off as his starters appeared to be running on fumes.

Brooklyn didn’t have a lot of height to begin with but when Vaughn went small by taking the 6-11 Nic Claxton off the court in favor of the 6-3 Cam Thomas, Budenholzer kept Lopez and Antetokounmpo on. Brooklyn missed nine straight shots, but they had no chance to offensive rebound in falling behind by a dozen. The Bucks didn’t immediately blew it open, but too much time lapsed for the Nets to get back into it.

Vaughn then pulled the starters for good down 110-95 with 4:39 to go in the game. Bridges finished with 31 points on 11 of 19 shooting, Dinwiddie had 26 and Johnson had 19. But Dorian Finney-Smith finished with just five and Claxton had nine.

Pat Connaughton back with a bang

Connaughton had been dealing with left calf soreness since before the all-star break, but he looked totally healthy when he threw down a ferocious fourth quarter dunk.

“Yeah, it felt great,” he said. “Felt great. I mean, I like to get back to doing more of those high-flying type things. It was nice to get my legs back under me.”

Connaughton had missed the start of the season with a right calf strain, but he said this was a different type of problem — one that missing the Chicago game before the all-star break, then missing the Miami game just after it gave him proper time to heal.

Five numbers

7 Straight road victories during the streak for the Bucks, which matches their longest stretch away from Fiserv Forum since the 2019-20 season.

7 First quarter Milwaukee turnovers, leading to six Brooklyn points. It was tied for the most turnovers Brooklyn forced in a first quarter this season and helped them to a 34-22 lead after one.

7-1 Bucks’ record this season on the front end of back-to-back sets.

10-0 Record in the month of February for the Bucks. It was their second undefeated month of the season as they went 6-0 in October. They have gone unbeaten in four months total in franchise history.

23 Minutes for Middleton, as he finished with 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting. He also had six assists. He was pulled with the rest of the Bucks starters in the final minutes of the game, preventing him from playing consecutive games of at least 25 minutes for the first time since Dec. 7 and 9.

Play of the game is Bobby Portis’ corner three-pointer

The Bucks never led by more than two points in the first 34-plus minutes of the game, and they had not held a lead since the 10:24 mark of the first quarter when it was 5-4. That changed when Holiday hit Bobby Portis for a corner three-pointer with 1:28 left in the third, giving the Bucks a 85-84 lead. Middleton and Holiday then scored six points in the final minute, giving the Bucks a 91-85 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Video of the game is Giannis’ monster dunk on two Brooklyn defenders

In the final moments of a forgettable first quarter, Giannis Antetokounmpo barreled through the lane and put down a ferocious left-hand dunk over would-be Brooklyn defenders Nic Claxton and Dorian Finney-Smith. It was the highlight in a sloppy first quarter for Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Bucks injury report

Who do the Bucks play next?

Milwaukee jets right home to host the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night at Fiserv Forum, the first of six back-to-backs over the final 22 games. The rebuilding Magic is led by rookie of the year favorite Paolo Banchero and fellow youngsters Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr., Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs.

More:Marc Lasry agrees to sell his stake of the Milwaukee Bucks to Haslams

Nickel:Portis and Crowder return to action with the same motivation but none of the animosity

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Five Bucks players score in double figures in team’s 15th straight win Milwaukee Bucks win 15th straight game with 118-104 victory over Brooklyn Nets

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